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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mawson, Francisca Adriana (Paquita) (1891–1974)

by Emma McEwin and Nancy Robinson Whittle

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Francisca Adriana (Paquita) Mawson (1891-1974), community worker and writer, was born on 19 August 1891 at Acton, London, sixth of seven children of Dutch-born parents Guillaume Daniel Delprat, engineer, and his wife Henrietta Marie Wilhelmine Sophia, née Jas. Paquita spent the first eight years of her life in Andalusia, Spain, where her father was working as a mining engineer. In 1898 Delprat moved to Broken Hill, New South Wales, where he had joined the Broken Hill Pty Co. Next year, his wife and five of their children arrived from Europe.

Paquita and some of her siblings attended the convent school at Broken Hill until, in 1902, their father bought a house in North Adelaide. The Delprat girls were enrolled at Tormore House, a progressive private school in North Adelaide, where Paquita stayed until 1908, after which she took piano and singing lessons at the Elder Conservatorium of Music under the tutelage of William Silver.

At the age of 19 Paquita became engaged to (Sir) Douglas Mawson, geologist and explorer. They married on 31 March 1914 at Holy Trinity Church of England, Balaclava, Victoria. Their daughter Patricia was born in March 1915 in the Delprat family home in Melbourne. Paquita left the infant with Henrietta Delprat in 1916, while she journeyed through war-torn waters to join her husband at Liverpool, England, where he worked in the explosives section of the Ministry of Munitions. Lady Mawson made hospital dressings and worked as Sir Douglas's secretary in the afternoons. They moved to London in September 1917 and their second child Jessica was born there the following month. The Mawsons returned to Australia early in 1919 and built a house in the Adelaide seaside suburb of Brighton, where they spent the remainder of their married life.

Lady Mawson took active roles in the University Wives', the Lyceum and the Queen Adelaide clubs. For thirty years she was involved with the Mothers' and Babies' Health Association, including nine years as president, and travelled by train to many country areas to spread the message of good infant care. During World War II she also worked tirelessly as the convenor of the civilian relief department of the South Australian branch of the Australian Red Cross Society. She was appointed officer of the Order of Oranje-Nassau (1946), in recognition of the help she gave to Dutch refugees, and O.B.E. in 1951.

Music, her garden, their farm in the Adelaide Hills, reading (in several languages) and writing for journals and radio remained her abiding interests. She was a prolific letter writer and frequent hostess and was a strong supporter of her husband in both public and private life. Lady Mawson made her own contribution to Antarctic knowledge in writing Mawson of the Antarctic (London, 1964). She also wrote A Vision of Steel, a biography of her father (Melbourne, 1958).

For most of her life, she travelled extensively throughout Europe and America, maintaining strong connections with the Netherlands, and with her far-flung brothers and sisters and their families. A tall, striking woman, she was noted for her talent for public speaking, her quick wit and generous spirit. After Sir Douglas's death in 1958, Lady Mawson moved to Mount Lofty.

Having outlived all of her siblings, she died on 26 May 1974 and was buried beside her husband in St Jude's cemetery, Brighton. Their two daughters survived her. Lady Mawson's strong character and flair for fashion were portrayed in four surviving portraits, three of which are held privately. The other, an oil painting by her nephew Paul Delprat, belongs to the Mawson collection and in 2005 hangs in the Robert Barr Smith library, University of Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • N. R. Flannery (ed), This Everlasting Silence (Melb, 2000)
  • Tormore House records (State Library of South Australia)
  • Mawson family papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • Delprat papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Delprat and Teppema papers (National Library of Australia)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Emma McEwin and Nancy Robinson Whittle, 'Mawson, Francisca Adriana (Paquita) (1891–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Delprat, Francisca

19 August 1891
London, Middlesex, England


26 May 1974

Cultural Heritage